After last season’s unimaginable success in the Champions League for Germany’s two best teams, a lot was made of whether Bundesliga sides could make their mark once again. That question was convincingly answered after all four German sides advanced to the knockout stages, a first in the Champions League era.
Leverkusen are the first of the four teams to step up to the plate when they take on French champions Paris Saint-Germain at home.
Bayer Leverkusen v Paris Saint-Germain (18th Feb-12th Mar)
Leverkusen have had a relatively successful domestic season so far, all things considered. With Bayern Munich seemingly unstoppable this season, the battle for second place is what Leverkusen have been working for, and they’ve worked very well for it. Despite that, their form has been shaky of late.
They head into this tie having been knocked out of the DFB Pokal in dramatic fashion last Wednesday. 1. FC Kaiserslautern upset the odds and beat Leverkusen in extra-time. Since the restart of the Bundesliga, Bayer have won twice and lost a great competitive game in Freiburg.
Die Werkself had a tough game against Schalke on matchday 21, a six-pointer at the top of the Bundesliga. Sidney Sam was left out in controversial fashion, hoping to spur the player into action after many think his summer move to Schalke has been a distraction. In the game, Leverkusen struggled overall and were beaten 1-2 by the in form Gelsenkirchen side. After the loss to Kaiserslautern, this is exactly what Leverksuen didn’t want before the arrival of PSG.
Bayer had a mixed campaign in the group stages earlier in the competition. They were undefeated against the weaker teams in the group, with two wins against Real Sociedad and one win and a draw against Shakhtar Donetsk. However Bayer were desperately disappointed with their games against Manchester United. A hard-fought 4-2 loss at Old Trafford was followed by a thoroughly disappointing defeat at the BayArena with United winning 5-0.
With a stronger squad than Man Utd’s coming to the BayArena in PSG, Sami Hyypia’s team cannot let the big lights of the Champions League frighten them away from making an impact against one of the big boys again. After all, you’ve got to beat the best to be the best. After their recent form Leverkusen supporters will now look for a positive performance from their team, regardless of the outcome. And with recent injury troubles, the Parisiens could be as vulnerable as ever.
It’s been a season of success so far for the defending French champions. They sit pretty at the top of Ligue 1 and look more than likely to win their second consecutive French title. They faced a Falcao-less Monaco last weekend in a game that people had been calling the title decider before the start of the season. The game finished 1-1 and PSG maintained their five-point lead at the top of the table.
The French capital side could be massively depleted on Tuesday however, with star strikers Edinson Cavani (hamstring) out for three weeks and Zlatan Ibrahimović (back) doubtful for the game.
As is the case with every European tie, the second leg is vital. If Leverkusen can take a win and ultimately a lead on aggregate to Paris for the return leg, they will feel confident about their chances of advancing into the quarter-finals. It really does hinge on what happens in Leverkusen.
Sami Hyypia (Leverkusen coach)
Paris have spent a lot of money in recent years and built a very good team. They have a lot of individual quality and we’ll have to be at our absolute best to get a good result. We have to give 100% in every department.
Paris have one or two top international players in every position, so we cannot just focus on one or two players. It will be important to neutralise Zlatan Ibrahimović, so that he is not able to get into scoring positions. He is a very good player – maybe one of the very best right now. He can score a goal without having much of a chance. As a defender you can defend perfectly for the whole match, but he can still score in a second if you’re not on top of him. However, we won’t prepare for this game any differently.
If we play like we did against Schalke on Saturday, we can cause Paris problems. If Paris underestimate us because of recent results, that would be good for us, but I can’t influence that. We have to focus on our own game. It is very important that our fans get behind us no matter what.
Laurent Blanc (PSG coach):
Like every German team, Leverkusen are very athletic. We have to be on our toes from ever free-kick and corner because they can be very dangerous from set pieces. We will try and dominate the match by taking care of the ball. It’s the same pressure that accompanies any other game – everyone expects us to win.
Leverkusen will focus on Ibrahimović but we have lots of players capable of scoring. You can feel a Champions League atmosphere among the team. They are looking forward to a match in a wonderful stadium with an excellent pitch. They know how important this game is.
Leverkusen are very dangerous on the counter. Perhaps they will allow us to have more of the ball and wait to hit us on the break. So every time we lose possession, we have to work very hard to get it back.
Prediction: Bayer to fight hard and take a lead to Paris, but fall short in a tense game back in France.
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